Do you ever find yourself looking at your friendship circle in disbelief? Wondering how on earth its changed so much over the years? Perhaps its shrunk in size, maybe its non-existent or you feel like the quality of the friendships that remain are simply nowhere near what they used to be. If so, welcome to the sometimes challenging world of making and maintaining friends as adults! In this article we will explore why friendship circles change so much as we grow older, how to deal with it and how to connect as we age.
Why does this happen?
For some the state of their ever-shrinking support network is a real shock, to others it may feel like you’ve always struggled to connect. Making new friends when you’re a child isn’t necessarily easier, as there are still many complex dynamics at play, but you certainly have greater opportunities to meet and make friends. Between the large numbers of other kids at school or around the neighbourhood, you are not only given the opportunity but you are encouraged to meet and play. Somewhere in the crowd of other children you meet a special few that you ‘click’ with and that vital bond of friendship occurs. This is a large part of why people often find themselves with a shrinking social circle, as we grow older we have fewer chances to meet and mingle within large groups of people and therefore fewer chances to find that all important ‘click’. This also means we can start to feel out-of-practice when we do find ourselves among new people.
When looking at maintaining friendships that you’ve made from years gone by, there are many reasons why it can be challenging but it often simply comes down to the complications of life. As big life adjustments happen to one or both of you, such as becoming a new parent or moving away, it can lead to changes in the person and adds completely new pressures on the friendship. It can be difficult on both sides to maintain the connection that once felt so effortless. Some people naturally recognize and respond to this by putting in more effort to find new ways to connect while others do not – we see this often with friendships that feel more one-sided.
How do I deal with these feelings?
When you’re struggling to make new friends or looking back at lost friendships both can bring up complex feelings of loneliness, sadness, rejection, anger, betrayal, disappointment and/or regret. All of these are painful to live with, can sometimes feel all-consuming and most definitely have a negative impact on your mental health. While this experience can feel isolating, it is vital to remember that this is not uncommon. Most people find it challenging to make new friends and many struggle to keep up their social circle as they get older. One study found that 1 in 4 young adults feel they have no close friends and cite their shyness as the biggest contributor to this [i], so it is perhaps far more common than you have imagined.
Avoid torturing yourself over it. Perhaps you’ve been beating yourself up over not having kept in touch with your old connections or been placing huge pressure on yourself to make a group of new friends. This isn’t helpful and in fact it’s probably hindering your efforts. Journaling your feelings can help you heal old wounds and set intentions for the kinds of friendships you would like to find.
How do I make new friendships as an adult?
Firstly, remember to have a reasonable goal. Sometimes we watch tv shows or follow social media pages where people seem to have dozens upon dozens of ‘best friends’ – this is not realistic. Having a goal of making one or maybe two new friends over a period of time is a great place to start, that way you don’t become overwhelmed by the task or disheartened. Remember, aiming to find or maintain just a few quality friendships is arguably more impactful than simply chasing high numbers of acquaintances for appearances sake.
Next, identify the kind of friendships that you want in your life. Sometimes our childhood or college friendships can be ones of convenience, someone who lived nearby or sat next to you in class – but they may not have been someone that you would naturally connect to. Perhaps you started losing some of these friendships when the convenience factor disappeared and your different lifestyles and personalities became more apparent. Perhaps now you can see unhealthy or even toxic aspects of these friendships that have fallen away. Use your lost friendships to guide your new ones by identifying the kind of people you actually want to be around. Again, self-reflection and journaling can help you identify these patterns and see the gaps.
Now that you have a better idea of the type of people you might like as friends, it’s the time to give yourself the opportunity to meet these kinds of people. Use what you are interested in to select clubs, groups and activities. Joining certain hobby groups (such as walking groups/dance classes etc) that feel more authentic to what you enjoy, will give you a chance to meet others who feel the same. If you don’t know where to start, there are also apps and sites specifically designed for people purely looking for friendships with people of similar interests such as ‘MeetUp.com’. Putting yourself out there can definitely be the scariest part but just remember over time it’ll get easier and feel more natural.
Lastly, sometimes we lose old friends not because we outgrew them but instead because we stopped putting in effort or over a simple misunderstanding – remember it’s not too late to reach out. It may be sending a warm message, an overdue apology or a simple invitation to reconnect over coffee. Remain open and willing to work on your friendship, and while its not guaranteed to work, knowing you reached out and tried can be closure in itself.
Remember, friendships are a vital part of maintaining our mental health and can enrich our lives. To make and maintain quality friendships can take time and may feel intimidating at first, but it is a valuable investment and an act of self-care.
The article is written by Lauren, Trainee Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.